Summer in Mississippi is summer in Mississippi. “I always say, ‘I come for the heat and humidity, and I’m never disappointed,’” Alice Meyer said.
She makes her home in New York on the Upper East Side near Central Park for nine months of the year. For June, July and August, she comes down South.
That’s meant Tupelo for the past 20 years.
“It’s a wonderful place,” she said. “I’m very impressed by the sense of community in Tupelo.”
Her trips began when she met her husband, Elliott Saunders, who’s owned factories in New Albany and Fulton. Meyer was a marketing director for the government of Israel and promoted Israeli fashions in the U.S.
“Elliott was at the same retreat in Jerusalem,” she said. “We met that way.”
The marriage created a connection to Tupelo, where she became a regular at the North Mississippi Medical Center Wellness Center.
“I like swimming and exercising. I’ve made a lot of friends there,” she said, “and I learned T’ai Chi Chih,” a series of low-impact exercises.
She’s also learned that the Mississippi heat isn’t as bad as some believe.
“I think it’s easier to freeze here than up North because of all the air conditioning,” she said.
Of course, she’s a New Yorker at heart, and takes certain things for granted during those nine months. The Metropolitan Opera is almost like home, and she often has the run of the place.
“One of the things I do at The Met is bring patrons backstage during the intermissions to see the sets change,” she said. “Very often, I’ll bring them after a performance to meet the artists.”
She once led a tour of students from the Jackie Robinson Foundation and introduced them to world famous tenor Placido Domingo.
“He was so kind,” she said. “There were 30 or 35 of them. He spoke to all of them, shook their hands and asked what they were studying. It was great to be there for that moment.”
As an opera volunteer, Meyer is knowledgeable and enthusiastic.
“She’s a spritely and petite woman. She doesn’t stand still very often,” said Lisa Hayward, director of patron and individual giving at The Met. “She epitomizes what you want a volunteer to be. She says, ‘I am here. Use me as you want.’”
Here’s Meyer’s take on volunteering: “If anybody ever says to you, ‘It’s not going to take much of your time.’ Run.”
That’s followed by good-hearted laughter, because she certainly doesn’t mean it as far as The Met is concerned.
“No, it doesn’t take up too much of my time,” she said. “I love every minute of it.”
Meyer saw her first opera as an 8-year-old when a family member took her to a touring production of “Carmen.” It was the beginning of a life-long love affair she wants to share with more of her Tupelo friends.
“I think opera can grab you at any time in your life,” she said. “Of course, you have to be exposed to it.”
The Cinemark at The Mall at Barnes Crossing is a good place to start. The theater screens live and encore high-definition productions by the Metropolitan Opera.
It’s part of “The Met: Live in HD” series, which is broadcast around the world. An encore of “Rigoletto” will be screened at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, and a live stream of “Francesca da Rimini” will be broadcast at 11 a.m. March 16.
Meyer sincerely believes that if she could coax people into the theater, they’d find themselves thoroughly entertained and perhaps as entranced by the art form as she is.
“You see what’s going on backstage during intermission. You see the artists going to their dressing rooms,” Meyer said. “A lot of people like it better than the live performances because you get the close-ups on camera. You feel like you’re in it.”
Another thing the broadcasts have over live shows is subtitles.
“When they’re singing, you know what they’re saying,” she said. “You know if they’re saying, ‘Close the door’ or ‘I love you’ or ‘I’m coming back.’ It’s easy.”
The cultural exchange goes two ways. Meyer has hosted her New York friends in Tupelo, and they’ve attended the Elvis Presley Festival.
“When friends come, I take them to see Elvis’ house,” she said. “They like that.”
Going forward, she’ll be taking visitors to a different Elvis house, Graceland. She and her husband recently moved to Memphis, so this past summer was probably her last in Tupelo.
“I hope I never lose my connection to Tupelo,” she said. “I’ve made good friends.”
And she dearly hopes all of her good friends in the South will give her passion for opera a try.
“If you’re missing it, you’re really missing an important part of life,” she said. “How far you go? How deep you go? That’s up to you. It’s a marvelous form of entertainment. Go and enjoy. It’s as simple as that.”